Premium

Why Rory Stewart is exactly what the nation needs

Rory Stewart came seventh in the first round of the Tory leadership race with 19 votes
Rory Stewart came seventh in the first round of the Tory leadership race with 19 votes Credit:  Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Rory Stewart is thoughtful, intelligent, full of integrity, and for all these reasons, say political commentators, he will never be prime minister.

How depressing, how miserable, how utterly soul-destroying that we have come to this point in political life where jaded, hard cynicism always wins the day, enabling us to dismiss outright a candidate who chooses to campaign on a platform of honesty. It’s like living in a real life Game of Thrones, only without all the things that made Game of Thrones so engaging to watch - no dragons, no beheadings, and certainly no sex.

Like many of my friends and family, I long ago abandoned the preposterous idea that anyone with integrity would ever present themselves as a potential candidate for the highest level of political office in this country.

I had accepted this feeling of powerlessness at the hands of the power hungry, and decided instead to adopt an eyes wide shut approach to politics, one which mostly involves switching off whenever the topic of Brexit is brought up.

I do not feel that the people in power care about me, so why should I spend any time caring about them? There is laundry to be done, elderly relatives that need to be looked after, holes in my kitchen ceiling that need to be filled… none of which will happen if I spend my life in perpetual anger about the state of the country.

But listening to Rory Stewart launch his leadership campaign, I was briefly reminded that not all MPs are venal, self-serving, and incapable of expressing empathy. Here was a man who spoke of positivity and action, and most controversially of all, of love.

When asked by a young transgender person what he planned to do about the politics of negativism that have turned this country from a comforting bell shape, most of us in the middle, to a polarised U shape, Stewart answered with sincerity. He said he would “embrace you, welcome you…” and added how important it was “in our society to cherish each other, how much we should respect each other’s identity. And this is about…” Stewart paused for a moment. “It’s about listening, and I’m afraid it’s about love.” As in, there isn’t much of it around right now.

Listening! Love! Had I just stumbled across some sort of inspirational Ted talk by a peace activist? I mean, the whole thing did take place in a circus tent. But no, this was real, this was happening, this was a leadership candidate who spoke of hope and possibility and wanted to unite through faith not fear. Somebody pass the smelling salts!

We are all so red faced and furious about everything right now. Not just Brexit. Everything. About comedians, about fat people, about the weather. In Years and Years, the excellent BBC drama that imagines life in Britain in the near future, a bombastic, divisive television commentator, played by Emma Thompson, ends up becoming prime minister, turning parts of Britain into no go areas and making asylum seekers disappear.

Yes, this might seem fanciful, but it is rooted in a very real form of politics that aims to divide and conquer. Stewart, with his sincerity, is the antidote to that. When I watch him speak, I am reminded of one of psychiatry’s most favourite questions, one so many of us, in these divided times, forget to ask ourselves: do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

His is a serious sincerity, one that is worldly and knowledgeable. He speaks several languages, has walked not just this country but also Afghanistan, and we know that he is good in a crisis, having delivered his own child. When I see Rory Stewart, I see a world beyond Brexit, a man who knows that leaving the EU is a key issue for this country… but that it is not the only issue. For three years now we have been paralysed by division, incapable of talking about anything else - and the inevitable conclusion of this is that nothing else has actually been done.

What this country needs now is not more of the same divisive rhetoric, and endless debates about the throwing of milkshakes. It doesn’t need any more pitching of people against each other. It certainly doesn’t need any more cynicism. As corny as it sounds, it needs love. It needs more politicians like Rory Stewart. Tories - now is the time to do your best.  

Read Bryony Gordon's latest column on telegraph.co.uk every Saturday from 9am